Bad Talk, Good Talk


Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Perhaps all I need to say is: it was twenty-four hours when language of character failed even when it was most needed. A bridge that never got built. But it seems I must write myself forward, into the next moment, right past the uncomfortable restraints of words. I don’t want to linger on bad talk. I want action and illumination, direction and refreshment.

I walked. I was moving along with speed and decisiveness, engaging in what I have begun to think of as “a small salvation walk”–loosening difficult physical, spiritual and emotional kinks. My legs carried me from street to street, beauty to beauty. My Nikon Coolpix was in hand as I kneeled to capture white and orange daffodil petals made translucent by slanting light, admiring the design of cherry tree branches festooned with blossoms, a dappled blue sky giving it depth. There were imaginative garden decorations, burbling fountains, creatures dashing and dozing. I snapped away as eye to mind to heart worked together.

Photography often intensifies the value of a moment for me. Spiritual vision focuses, as well, while senses praise the external world which sometimes can feel imprisoning. The walking part is crucial and today, more so. I am not a leisurely walker, for the most part. My heart beat harder and endorphins surged, breathing filled veins with rich oxygenated blood. It all conspired to allow the history of the day fade, my worries to blur. But I was not looking forward to returning home, sitting with myself. Thinking once more of angry words that had hit the mark the day before. I felt wounded still.

Then as I started up another block, I heard him. He sat across the street. Perhaps ten or eleven, dressed in white button-down shirt and khakis, he was slumped in the driveway, legs sprawled on cement even though thick emerald grass beckoned. He appeared to be studying an electronic gadget. He was speaking loudly. At first I thought he was talking to someone on a cell phone. I scanned the lovely house and yard thinking there was someone else there, a parent, perhaps. No one was at a window.

He was alone and grumbling.

“It’s certainly not like New York,” he said. “I sure didn’t like that.”

A young girl’s voice floated from an unknown place and was delivered to his driveway. “Well, no. You should tell them. They’d want to know.”

“I don’t really care what they want!”

He was still looking down, as if he was talking to whatever was in his hand. I was almost parallel with him, passing from the other side of the street. I didn’t break my stride even though I badly wanted to because now I was curious and couldn’t help but eavesdrop in such a public arena. I looked around again, but no one else was outside, certainly not near him.

The girl spoke with gentle insistence. “But you should.” She paused. “Do they like it here or there?”

“I don’t know. They don’t say, exactly.”

I climbed up a hilly spot when a small movement to the left (my side of the street) caught my eye. One more house down, past bushes, was a girl about the same age. She sat on the top step, hands on knees as she leaned forward. The house was big, green, with a wide porch. Her hair, golden brown in the rich light. We didn’t make eye contact. She was staring across the street even though it was unlikely she could see him, at least not in full. But she kept talking as I walked by.

“Maybe it was just a fly. It could have been a fly or another bug, maybe a flying beetle in the room.”

“Not sure. It was dark. I don’t think so.” His words arced, floated and landed on her steps again. “But maybe it was…”

“You should tell them what you saw, anyway. Lots of spiders like houses here.”

She didn’t sound worried, only clear about what he ought to do.

“It’s sure not new York, that’s all I have to say.” He was adamant. A little discouragement along with resignation. “Oregon…”

I paused then, out of sight of the girl and the boy, wondering what was next. She was silent. As I started again she said something with the certainty she had shown from the beginning, but her words were quieter, floated and dissolved before they reached my ears. Two voices mingled as I gained speed. Crossed to the next corner, next block.

I felt as if I had experienced one of the best conversations I’d had the privilege to hear in a long while. The boy stated his issue (even if I hadn’t understood at first). He let the girl know he was unhappy with something, and that New York was different. The girl responded with assurredness but some concern. He was frustrated with his parents and she accepted this. They shared thoughts succinctly, opinions coming forward without argument. She did not give up her theme. He continued to affirm his feelings while noting his experience of an unwelcome insect. He might or might not take her advice into consideration, especially because here is not where he was used to being or knowing well and that was a mighty fact.

But she didn’t go inside; she kept communicating. She likely knows that some spiders in the Northwest leave a painful wound when they bite and carry poison, but some leave people alone or take nibbles that do not cause real harm. They are master weavers and busy at it–I run into webs everywhere, some silken designs being gigantic–and insects of all sorts are rousing in spring warmth. As far as spiders go, the one the boy may have seen could have lived in that room (his?) all winter long and either is moving back and forth across the wall or ceiling or hanging by a silken thread, Perhaps dead. He didn’t say enough for me to be able to sketch the whole scenario. He didn’t compare what he saw to that with which he is familiar in New York. From which he may have recently moved. (I wish I could have said: “I know what you mean, it isn’t my home state of Michigan, either, but it is amazing here, too, just wait.”) I could speculate all evening and then some.

But the two of them knew what they had to say and they were straight forward. Concise. Reasonable by any brief assessment. And it wasn’t just the girl who cared enough to participate. He likely began the conversation with a complaint. But he heard her. He took her words in, responded and shared openly. They were, by all appearances as I passed through their volleying words, friends. Even good friends, sitting in the last afternoon light of March, caring little what anyone else on the street thought. Creating their own privacy as it was just the two of them. Talking together.

Why didn’t he go to her house or she, to his? I wondered. But sometimes it is like that, you are doing something and then a conversation begins and on it goes, even without being face-to-face in the same space. When you are a kid, it is like that more, I suspect, and it progresses differently than when you are an adult. It can be almost offhand even when serious. Time is less critical and counted, feelings run like rivers, one into another. I have noticed over the years that children construct a whole other world and they spend far less energy caring about what neighbors or strangers think. Or precisely what words to use. They seem to use far fewer but incorporate them better into real, of-the-moment talk. They haven’t learned how or when to use the worst things that can arise from the subconscious or a store of unfortunate but readied epithets as can happen as adults. They haven’t stuffed, even hoarded an abundance of emotions so that, when given rein, they can make an unholy mess.

My walk ended well with more flowers, other children laughing and playing, dogs getting frisky and cats slinking by. Those two kids, though, followed me home. I sat with their words and small faces, recalled their perches on driveway and step. They had called to each other across the gap, reached out with meaning but with no hidden implications or grave mistakes. It was a beautiful thing.

I didn’t know what to write. I still harbor sadness. Being an adult can seem unfair, is complicated and tricky despite the training we receive all our lives, the intelligence we think we have. The hearts we love with and try to make strong. It takes a willingness to be braver and say what you think, share what you feel, dream aloud and note an error made. And for this writer it is sometimes necessary to take “a small salvation walk” outside of myself, to remember that living is an art as well as a challenge, perhaps to some a game, to others a burden. I once wrote in a poem that “making a life is a small pause on a thin reed and growing wings”. I have to discern how and where I can fly, only to alight and take flight in all conditions. I’m still open to change, to learning more about heaven above and earth below and how to navigate it all. I know I don’t always land with great judgement or take off well enough.

But I can say that I am often blessed with lessons needed; I am not alone in this. So, thank you, kids. You were as a balm to heart and soul. Stay there for one another if you can, at least for a while. And may my lips speak as well as did yours, in truth and kindness.


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